Mary Jacobs Library Turns a Page: Where Will the Plot Lead?
By Barbara A. Preston | March 31, 2022
Mary Jacobs Library — the crown jewel of Rocky Hill according to the mayor — is expected to close in May. Books and staff will be transferred to the new library a mile away in Montgomery, leaving a void in the small town that has hosted the library for almost 50 years.
Mary Jacobs is expected to re-open in September as a mini library, consuming what is now the children’s wing. It would operate on a pilot basis for two years with one staff member, reduced hours, and limited books.
Rocky Hill Borough Council members are encouraging library supporters to attend a “Rally for the Future of MJML Library” on Sunday, April 3, from 2 pm to 4 pm. The event, at the Rocky Hill Community Center next to the library, will include a live band, food, and special guests — particularly NJ State Senator Andrew Zwicker; and NJ State Assembly members Roy Freiman and Sadaf Jaffer.
“We encourage people to use the library now, before it closes and again when it reopens as a smaller footprint,” Borough Council Member Susan Bristol says. “Service beyond the two-year period will depend on us, on demand for services, and community participation.”
Plans for the Library Building
Stakeholders — borough council members, library users, and donors and volunteers — were surprised with the 2020 appearance of a real-estate sign on the library’s front lawn. Some say they are anxious the library will disappear if the building is sold.
The owner of the building, the MJML Foundation, has amassed a $3 million endowment over 50 years (according to 2020 tax returns), with the mission to provide a library in Rocky Hill.
The foundation has listed the building for sale for $3.5 million, which could double its endowment to more than $6 million. However, whether the building is “sellable” remains to be seen. The parking lot is shared with the Rocky Hill Community Group, and it is zoned for “community use.”
“One of the things that made the library special was people loved it. They volunteered and generously donated, because they felt it belonged to them.”
– Former MJML Foundation Brenda Fallon
Rocky Hill resident Brenda Fallon, who led the foundation as president and as a trustee for about 26 years, is credited with growing the endowment. She stepped down in 2021.
Clearly, the future of the building depends heavily on coordination between the six Rocky Hill Borough Council members, the mayor, and the four members of the MJML Foundation.
Cary Dawson of Rocky Hill, who became president of the foundation in 2018, did not return phone calls for this article. Last month, she told The Montgomery News that it was “premature” to do an article.
In 2019, the foundation had 11 trustees — seven have resigned by 2022.
The Little Pilot Library
The Somerset County Library System is expected to move its books and library staff from the Rocky Hill library building to the new Montgomery Township municipal complex in May.
Plans for the Rocky Hill library include: selling or leasing the building; which will have a mini library attached.
Philip Kartsonis, a foundation trustee and previous mayor of Rocky Hill who now lives in Ocean City, says the foundation had not leased or sold the building as of March 24. Plans call for, “A beautiful smaller library for Rocky Hill. We are hoping to move forward with support from borough council.”
A 17-page plan commissioned by the foundation calls for alterations of the existing library, beginning in May. (The Montgomery News had to submit an OPRA request to view the plan.) The foundation would pay about $300,000 to wall-off the children’s library from the main building and install an outside entrance to it.
The plan, completed by Cornerstone Architectural Group in South Plainfield, also separates the heating/ventilation/air-conditioning system; water; and electric from the main building. The work would take place over the summer, with a September opening date.
“We want to do the right thing for the Rocky Hill community, to meet the agreement,” he said.
Under an agreement signed in 2020, Somerset County will continue to provide small-scale library services in Rocky Hill for two years. Rocky Hill Borough will continue to make an annual contribution to the library of $10,000. The agreement specifies the temporary mini library should be about a third of current library’s size. One full-time staff member would work 35 to 37.5 hours per week. Programming for children and adults would be offered, and library patrons would still be able to check out books.
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Mary Jacobs Library Beyond 2024
Newly appointed Borough Council President Edgar “Trey” Delaney, says the library “provides critical social infrastructure,” to the community of Rocky Hill.
Delaney and former MJMLF Trustee Hank Bristol of Rocky Hill attended the March 2 meeting of the Somerset County Library Commission, where they pledged their support to keeping a library in Rocky Hill, and thanked Somerset County for providing excellent library services for the community.
Borough Council member Susan Bristol, who is married to Hank, is a member of the Rocky Hill Library Task Force.
Susan Bristol has been vocal in obtaining feedback on the library from stakeholders. She attended the Somerset County Commissioners meeting on March 8 and spoke to the commissioners about what she sees as a lack of opportunity for input from the Rocky Hill community, borough leaders, and general stakeholders about the plans for a future library in Rocky Hill.
“The Rocky Hill Borough Council has no choice but, on behalf of its citizens, to try to plan for the future library in Rocky Hill,” she said.
“From our perspective, we all should be celebrating the new library in Montgomery. It should be an expansion of the Somerset County library system. However, it is absolutely not a replacement for the Mary Jacobs Library in Rocky Hill.” ■